In 1990, Total Recall was one of the films that put Arnold Schwarzenegger past the A-list and on to the icon list. The Paul Verhoeven film won a special Academy Award for visual effects, and it was a thrill ride that became a giant blockbuster at the box office. In a world where there are no new ideas, Hollywood has decided to remake this film.
This version of Total Recall stars Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid. The time is the far future and the world has suffered a biological war. There are only two inhabitable areas left, in Australia and England. An underground pipeline bored through the planet is the only way for one group to travel to the other. Just as we have East and West, we also have upper and lower class. The leader of the European area is the top dog and their ruler is a man named Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
Quaid lives in a dumpy little apartment with his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but has been having dreams of another woman (Jessica Biel). He reads James Bond as he goes to work in a robotic factory so the idea of being a super hero/secret agent is subtly set.
Almost on a whim, he decides to go to a business named ‘Rekall’ to have an experience. It is pushed as more of the ultimate vacation that takes place all in the mind. It’s also in a very bad part of town, a place were triple breasted streetwalkers ply their trade.
Just as the chemicals are to go into Quaid’s body, the technicians find that his mind has been altered. Then the Rekall company is invaded by a group of mechanical men and real men. Quaid goes into rote mode and takes down everyone in the room, though he is not sure exactly how this happened.
The film takes off almost instantly after that moment and the chase is on. When Quaid gets home, his wife attacks him, telling him that she is not his wife and every memory he has is not real. This leads him to the other side of the non-contaminated world and a chase straight out of The Fifth Element and Minority Report playbook. He also meets up with Melina (Biel), a fighter in the resistance against Cohaagen, and in fact the woman he sees in his dreams. They have some relationship that Quaid does not remember
Quaid finds that he is actually “Hauser”, an agent sent to the other side to penetrate the resistance and root out its ruler Matthias (Bill Nighy). Our hero is never sure exactly which set of his memories are true and which are implanted. It is a race to save the planet as Quaid tries to find out who he truly is.
Where the first film made you wonder if everything experienced were real or just part of the program, this time out the doubts are jettisoned. The entire sub-plot of going to Mars is taken out and a political infighting sub-plot is added. Where Paul Verhoeven pushed the more fantastical elements, director Len Wiseman tries to keep the realism firmly intact.
There are many parts of the film that are superior to the original. Colin Farrell is a much better actor than Arnold. It is easy to believe that he is the confused secret agent with many hidden agendas. He is not a super man but a regular man with a super set of skills.
The female leads are much stronger this time out, especially Kate Beckinsale who kicks it with the big boys. Jessica Biel has a lesser role in this version but still manages to give it her all. By keeping both actresses in the entire production, the tension between the characters is truer. There is no stunt casting in this version of Total Recall.
The film looks more of a cross between Blade Runner and I, Robot, which means it’s a bit derivative in production aspects. With so many science fiction films made each year, it seems that there would be more originality. We have seen these types of space ships before and the technology has a familiar feel.
Those who love the original may be a bit taken aback from this new version. It lacks the whimsy and over-the-top comedy of the original. This one is a deadly serious without all the charms and silly bits. But for those who crave an action experience, this Total Recall does not disappoint. The 2012 version is much more of an entertainment, though easily forgotten by the time fall leaves hit the ground.